There’s nothing like a bit of bubbly to give an occasion a festive touch, whether it’s a holiday cocktail party or an intimate New Year’s Eve dinner. And there are oodles of terrific options out there from which to choose. Beyond champagne, you’ll find fabulous fizzes from Italy and even New Mexico. Here are some top picks with suggested retail prices.
First, a quick primer. There’s a reason why champagne commands high prices. The grapes used to make it (usually a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier) grow in unique chalky soil found only in the region of Champagne, which isn’t that big. Thus, the makers are limited. Also, champagne is handcrafted and gets its bubbles from the secondary fermentation in the bottle (versus tanks), which is a costly, time-consuming process. Vintage champagne costs even more, because the bottle contains only grapes from an outstanding year, whereas nonvintage champagne contains grapes from a variety of years.
However, you can find many great sparkling wines for less money that have been made using a process just like Champagne called méthode Champenoise or méthode classico. The obvious difference is that the grapes are grown outside of the Champagne region.
Less expensive bubbly, such as prosecco, is made using the Charmat method, meaning the secondary fermentation occurs in pressurized tanks, not in the bottle. Finally, really cheap sparklers can be made by injecting carbon dioxide into still wine before bottling, creating big, burpy bubbles, just like in soda pop.
Splurge Sippers: Champagne
Benoît Lahaye Blanc de Noirs 2014
“I’m in love with Benoît Lahaye because he practices all-natural farming, is certified biodynamic, and makes his wines with such integrity, like this Blanc de Noirs vintage 2014,” says Samanta Ettore, owner of wine-sense in Andover. “It’s 100 percent Pinot Noir and is probably one of the most elegant champagnes I carry. It has beautiful pearlage (teeny bubbles), a soft gold color (no red grape skin contact), and a soft nuttiness and fresh brilliance that is very balanced and satisfying.” $85
Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé
Packaged in a luxuriously heavy bottle with a striking salmon-pink label, this supremely elegant, rich, romantic sparkler contains the traditional blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes. In the glass it has a lustrous golden-pink hue and fills the mouth with a lush strawberry, citrus, roasted almond, and biscuit essence. $89.99
Françoise Bedel L’Âme de la Terre 2005
“This is a ‘Wow!’ bottle,” says Jeremy Kirkpatrick, owner (with his wife, Angela) of Grand Trunk Wine & Cheese in Newburyport. “It’s a grower champagne (meaning the maker owns his/her vines) and is made of 60 percent Pinot Meunier, 30 percent Chardonnay, and 10 percent Pinot Noir. It has superfine, tight, elegant bubbles and everything you want in a vintage champagne—a definite yeastiness with notes of almonds, apple, peach, and melon. It’s really complex, dry, and full-bodied.” $105
Pierre Paillard Les Mottelettes Bouzy Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 2013
“This is a very elegant champagne with fine mousse,” says Kathleen Powers Morgan, owner of Savour Wine & Cheese in Gloucester, of this Blanc de Blancs, so named because it only contains white grapes (in this case, just Chardonnay). “It has a little brioche, Asian pear, chalk, and saline stoniness.” $75
Laherte Frères À Chavot Ultradition Brut
“This is my go-to bottle for people who like rich, full white wines,” says Andrea Lewis, wine/store manager at Andover Classic Wines. “It’s made from the traditional three grapes, is dry, has teeny-tiny bubbles, and tastes of dried fruits, apricots, and oranges. It’s dry, but has fruit and freshness.” $44.99 (750 ml)
Gruet Blanc de Noirs
A French champagne maker who decided to plant vines in New Mexico (go figure!) uses méthode Champenoise to craft this astoundingly good pale-pink sparkler containing only Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. It has pinprick bubbles and a roasted vanilla-pear richness with hints of cherry and minerals. $17
Charles de Fère Réserve Blanc de Blancs Brut
“Since this winery is located 8/10 mile outside of Champagne, this [méthode Champenoise] sparkling wine can’t be called Champagne, but it’s our top seller and absolutely one of my favorites,” says Lewis of Andover Classic Wines. “Made from 100 percent Chardonnay, the palate is long and elegant, and it’s filled with white stone fruits and has a really beautiful white floral note on the nose.” $14.99
Domaine J. Laurens Le Moulin Blanquette de Limoux Brut
“Made from Mauzac and Chardonnay grapes, this is a really high-quality sparkler” from Southern France made in the méthode Champenoise, says Morgan of Savour Wine & Cheese. “It’s got boldness and toast and notes of ripe golden apple with a little nutmeg.” $17.99
This pale-yellow sparkler made in the méthode Champenoise at a 117-year-old winery in Northern Italy’s Trentino region has been served at the Emmy Awards for the past five years and was a gold medal winner at the 2019 Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships. Made from 100 percent Chardonnay grapes, it has a fresh, clean minerality with notes of green apple and yeast. $25
Nani Rizzi Valdobbiadene Superiore Extra Dry D.O.C.G.
“This prosecco has a really nice creaminess with some crunchy apple and toasty, biscuity flavor,” says Kirkpatrick of Grand Trunk Wine & Cheese. “Made from 100 percent Glera grapes in the Veneto region, it’s very balanced, very refined, and a killer price.” It’s also D.O.C.G. (meaning Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin, which is the highest designation of quality among Italian wines) and is made in the Charmat method. $15.99
Hip Hostess Gifts
Chapel Down Vintage Reserve Brut
Wine geeks know that some very good sparkling wines now come out of England, including this méthode Champenoise bubbly, which, despite saying “Vintage” on the label, is a nonvintage sparkler. However, it’s the official pour at #10 Downing Street in London, as well as the Oxford & Cambridge Boat Races and restaurants owned by star chefs Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver. Composed of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Meunier grapes grown in vineyards spanning from Essex to Hampshire, it has a soft golden hue, fine fizz, and crisp, dry notes of citrus, quince, and fresh brioche. $32.99
Medici Ermete Concerto Reggiano Lambrusco
“This is a relatively dry red sparkler made from the Lambrusco Salamino grape and has a really nice cassis, burgundy, dark-plum color, and grapey fruitiness,” says Morgan of Savour Wine & Cheese. “It looks substantial and is a classic pairing for charcuterie. It’s also great for brunch and goes with Asian food.” $22.99
Távora-Varosa Terras do Demo Rosé Bruto
“This is a really unusual sparkler from Portugal, made from 100 percent Touriga Nacional, which is a red grape,” says Kirkpatrick of Grand Trunk Wine & Cheese. “Made in the méthode classico, it has a super-super-light salmon color, yet has real substance, with delicate red currant, cherry, and forest floor flavors. It has supertight bubbles and a really long finish.” $21.99
Antica Fratta Franciacorta Essence Rosé
“In the last year, this has become a very hip wine,” says Lewis of Andover Classic Wines, referring to this rosy pink méthode Champenoise sparkler from Northern Italy. “Made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, it offers great value,” along with intense flavors of red berries and spice. $36.99
Swampscott residents, Tommaso Gambino and his wife, Jules Gold-Gambino are founders and producers of Gambino Spirits, which makes three Charmat method Prosecco in Italy’s Veneto region. Here is how Jules Gold-Gambino describes each one:
Made from 100-percent Glera grapes (Prosecco must be at least 85 percent Glera grape to be called Prosecco), the flavor is fresh and clean with citrus, green apple, white peach and some toast. $12.99
Gambino Gold Prosecco DOCG
Made from 100 percent Glera grapes, this sparkler is perfectly balanced with full textured bubbles with a floral, creamy, fresh finish. $19.99
Jules Rose Sparkling Wine
Fabricated from 90-percent Glera grapes and 10-percent Raboso (red grape), this dry bubbly rose is beautifully crisp with the essence of fresh flowers and berries. $21.99